Rob frosted the skull and crossbones--a masterpiece!
On Saturday at 4:00 I had my long-awaited Halloween baking party. Yes, I know. It’s not even October yet. But our family starts getting excited about Halloween in July! So this party seemed a long time coming.
I spent all day Saturday getting ready, which was just fine by me—because the preparation is always half the fun. I got to buy Halloween candy and pot chrysanthemums and pop popcorn and put up all my Halloween decorations. I had a terracotta pumpkin on the front porch and a real pumpkin on the back steps. There were garlands and candles and fake spider webs and bowls of candy—and a shadow maker! I set up our game table in the “library” (really the back half of our hall) for fortunetelling. I put my witch hat-shaped platter in the middle and filled it with black and orange votive candles and glinting gold-wrapped Reese’s peanut butter cups. I got out my Halloween tarot cards and Gypsy Witch fortunetelling cards and all the scary books and games I could think of.
Rob and I were having so much fun. We made gingerbread cookie dough and put the dough in the refrigerator to chill. Then we made iced tea, and limeade with maraschino cherries. We turned off the lights and lit the candles. And we made plans to tell the kids we had a ghost, a little-boy ghost named Phineas.
The guests were the usual suspects: Mom, Kris, Bun, Sophie, and Jake. Jake wore his red skull-print apron (handmade by Mom). What could be better for a Halloween baking party? My apron was pretty appropriate too—it’s orange with black cats. Sophie was wearing a sequined tank top and an assortment of new duct tape bracelets. Apparently duct tape now comes in a variety of decorator colors and prints, and kids are making bracelets out of it. This was news to me. Sophie even brought some extra rolls of duct tape with her to the party.
“Did you see my duct tape?” she asked cheerfully. She had several rolls, each with a different pattern. “I can help you make some bracelets, Lez, if you want to learn how to do it.”
She ended up making me the most awesome zebra-print one.
(Oh, by the way, I saw the best picture of Sophie yesterday. She’s on her way to gymnastics in her duct tape bracelets and a brand-new metallic jaguar-print leotard! Kris said this about the leotard: "It also has cut outs in the back--just to make sure you get noticed.")
Everybody was baking something different. Rob and I were baking gingerbread cookies. Bun was making carrot cupcakes. Mom was making pecan balls. And Mom assigned Kris to make some awesome caramel-peanut candies.
Mom is so funny. She is so bossy. Of course she had a baking assignment for Kris. “Now when you get to the part where they tell you to add the peanuts,” she said, “I brought that can of mixed nuts that I want you to pick the peanuts out of!”
It was this weird old can of mixed nuts that Mom had had forever and wanted to use up. She always does this! She tries to force you to consume her old outdated food. That is her favorite thing to do—to guilt you or otherwise trick you into eating weird old expired food products. I am serious!
Kris obeyed Mom’s orders. She sat picking through a can of mixed nuts, scavenging for peanuts. “Peanuts are sure hard to come by in here,” she said.
She picked through the whole can and came up with about two peanuts.
“Is that my can of mixed nuts?” Mom said. “That’s not my can of mixed nuts!”
It was mine, actually; I had bought it that morning and meant to put it out for a party snack.
“Sorry,” Kris said to me. “I touched every nut in there.”
Rob found a can of peanuts in the cupboard. “Here,” he announced. “Peanuts. They actually sell them in their own cans these days, you know.” Then he said to Kris in a stage whisper: “If your mom tells you to do something, just . . . don’t do it.” We love teasing Mom.
Even though he was decked out in his awesome skull-print apron, Jake is really not one for baking.
“I’m going to go run around,” he announced early on.
“Why don’t you help us bake cookies?” Kris said. “This is supposed to be a baking party.”
“No. I’m going to run around.”
“Be careful out there,” I said. “Just . . . well . . . Maybe you shouldn’t go out there alone. . . .”
“I thought we weren’t going to mention it,” Rob said in another stage whisper.
“Mention what?” Sophie asked.
“Nothing,” I said.
“Nothing,” Rob said.
“What?” Jake cried. “What?”
(It was getting dark outside. A thunderstorm was rolling in.)
“Nothing,” I said. “I shouldn’t tell you. It’s just . . .”
“Some strange things have been happening around here lately,” Rob said.
“What?” Jake said. His eyes were so big.
“Trouble,” I said, shrugging. “Dead animals. Things missing. I shouldn’t talk about it.”
“Tell me!” Jake cried.
“We think we might have a ghost,” Rob said “reluctantly.”
“Why?” Sophie cried. “Why do you think that?” She and Rob were sitting at the kitchen table, rolling out the cookie dough and cutting it into bat and broomstick shapes.
“Just . . . these strange things keep happening,” I said. “Weird things. And the neighbors—old people—they’ve told us stuff. They said a little boy died here . . . a long time ago.”
“Phineas,” Rob said. “That was his name.”
“How do you know?” Jake asked. He was absolutely fascinated. “How do you know that was his name?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Rob shrugged. “We found these weird papers in the attic.”
“You don’t even have an attic!” Sophie cried. “You’re lying!”
“Yes, we do,” Rob said. He pointed up at the ceiling. “There’s the door.”
Sophie was quiet. Maybe she even shivered. It was getting darker and darker outside. There was lightning, and rain pelted the windows.
“What did the papers say?” Jake asked.
“Phineas,” I said. “Over and over, in a little kid’s handwriting. Sometimes the letters were backwards.”
“Where are the papers?” Jake cried. “I want to see them!”
“They were really old,” I said, “and when we brought them out into the light, they just kind of crumbled. . . .When did we find those papers, Rob? Was it the day you put up the pot rack?”
“Yeah. And ever since, these strange things have been happening, like we said.”
“Like what?” Jake cried.
“Oh, weird little noises,” I said. “Things going missing. . . . This morning Rob woke up with these weird scratches on his face. . . .”
(Jammer, our cat, scratched Rob’s face during the night.)
Jake and Sophie looked closely at Rob’s face. “Phineas scratched you?” Jake said.
“Maybe,” Rob said. “Something did.”
“Maybe he was angry that we took his papers,” I said. “That Rob took his papers.” I looked at Rob: “I kept telling you to leave them alone.”
“Phineas is dead?” Sophie asked. “How did he die?”
“I don’t know. We heard something about a well,” I said. “There used to be a well on the property. Back behind the stables . . . where the garage is now.”
“Some people thought it wasn’t an accident,” Rob said. “Apparently he had trouble with an older sister.”
“That’s what the old people say, at least,” I said. “But even they don’t know for sure. They’re just repeating stories they heard. Because all this happened a long time ago, before they were even born.”
There was a crack of thunder. “I want to go home!” Jake cried.
So we all started comforting him and backpedaling and saying we were just teasing. But Jake wanted it to be true. He wanted to keep talking about Phineas.
And yet, he and Sophie were really scared! When we started frosting gingerbread bats and tombstones, Jake didn’t want to sit in certain spots because he’d be too close to the shadowy dining room. He made Kris sit between him and the dining room so he’d be protected.
“No! I don’t want to sit over there,” he cried.
“Why?” Kris asked.
“It’s dark over there!”
But he was fascinated by Phineas, and he wanted to keep talking about him. He was completely engaged.
“Where does Phineas live?” he asked.
“I don’t know for sure,” I said. “But we have a couple of theories. Sometimes we find little toys in that cabinet.” I pointed to a primitive handmade cabinet with a distinctly creepy look. “The other possibility is my closet. Have you ever seen my closet?”
“Yeah,” Sophie said. “It’s scary. It’s got that weird doll in it!”
This was so funny. She was talking about my beloved doll, Amy, who is about four feet tall. She was my favorite doll when I was a kid. Kris and I loved her so much that Mom bought a really expensive replica of her for Sophie before Sophie was born. Mom has never given Sophie the doll, or even shown it to her, because Sophie “doesn’t seem interested,” as Mom says.
“Hey, Mom,” Kris said, laughing, “I know what you should give Sophie for Christmas this year. . . .”
“Amy II?” Mom said, snickering. “Ha! Isn’t it sad? She’ll have to live her whole life in a box because nobody wants her.”
“That is sad,” Kris said.
“Oh, I know,” Mom said. “All I’d have to do is mention it to Jake and he’d take her.” (Jake is softhearted and feels sorry for everything. He had a piñata party for his birthday, but he felt too sorry for his piñata to hit it.)
“I want to see Leslie’s closet!” Jake cried. “I never got to see it!” So Rob took Jake to go peek in my closet. Jake thought it was very scary. The inside is all brick and unfinished plaster, and the ceiling is about 15 feet high, with exposed beams.
Then Rob and Jake sat at the fortunetelling table, in the shadows, and consulted the Magic Eight-Ball on Rob’s phone. Jake kept asking the Magic Eight-Ball questions about Phineas: “Magic Eight Ball, does Phineas live in Leslie’s closet?” he said. The rest of us were still in the kitchen frosting and baking, and Rob and Jake sat in the dark, spooky library (I’m going to persist with calling the back part of the hall “the library”; maybe it will catch on).
Rob and I had given Jake a Hot Wheels car, and Jake had it with him at the table. Mom said (his grandmother said!), “Somebody needs to go steal that Hot Wheels car and say Phineas took it. Hide it in Lez’s closet!” She was whispering, snickering. It was so cute. I love it when Mom gets into the spirit.
So, Kris sneaked in and stole the Hot Wheels car while Rob and Jake were distracted by the Magic Eight Ball. She ended up hiding it in the scary primitive cabinet in the kitchen.
Jake came into the kitchen a few minutes later and announced triumphantly, “I know where Phineas lives! In Leslie’s closet! The Magic Eight Ball said so!”
Then he marched back out into the library. We heard him cry, “Hey, where’s my Hot Wheels car? Rob, where did you put my Hot Wheels car?!”
“I didn’t touch it, J-Bomb,” Rob said.
Meanwhile, Mom, Bun, Kris, and I were giggling in the kitchen.
Jake came back and said, “Mommy, I can’t find my Hot Wheels car!”
“Oh, no,” I said. “I was hoping this wouldn’t happen, but sometimes Phineas takes things. . . .”
“Is he going to give it back?” Jake asked. “Mommy, is Phineas going to give me back my Hot Wheels car?”
Jake kept talking about Phineas throughout the entire party. Most of the time he didn’t seem scared; he just seemed really fascinated, really taken by the idea of the little-boy ghost.
Meanwhile, Bunny was telling us that she planned to be a marionette this Halloween. (Bunny always comes up with the best costumes; one year she was a cemetery angel come to life, and she even had a little pigeon--stuffed, I mean--to sit on her shoulder.)
Kris was telling us how mad she was at Phil for watching a Rush documentary. “When I found out it was Rush, I just stomped outside!”
Jake kept talking about Phineas, and Rob started worrying that Jake was getting too scared, so Rob said, “I don’t believe in ghosts. They’re just made up.”
And Kris said, “Ooh, watch out, Rob. Phineas is going to get you.”
Bunny piped in, teasing, “Yes, Rob, you’re putting us all at risk!”
Jake asked the Magic Eight Ball on Rob’s phone if Phineas existed. The Magic Eight Ball said no.
“Phineas is going to be mad,” I said. “He’s not going to like that.”
“Maybe the person whose phone it is will be held responsible,” Kris said. “Maybe Phineas will give Rob a call when he’s at work. He’ll say, ‘Hi, Rob. I want to play with you now.”
Kris’s Phineas voice was quite frightening. “Now I’m getting scared,” Rob said.
It was raining and thundering and lightning. It was the perfect night for a Halloween party. Jake and Sophie were too scared to go into any of the rooms that were dark, but that was fine. There was plenty of frosting that needed to be done in the bright, cheerful kitchen.
Sophie was so good at using the piping bag; she made some awesome ghosts and tombstones. I only frosted two cookies, and they both looked like the work of an untalented three-year-old.
Bunny's cupcakes turned out so cute, topped with candied ginger and little black flags decorated with grinning skulls. Of course, Mom's pecan balls were perfect, nestled in Halloween-print papers. And the caramel candies were awesome too.
"I feel so fat," Kris said.
"I haven't eaten one single healthy thing this entire day," I said.
Later Bun and Jake and I sat in the Little House (the old detached kitchen). We went in there to play with my cats, but we got distracted telling scary stories. Bunny started telling Jake about the movie Watcher in the Woods. She gave a brief description of the plot, and when she came to the end she asked, “So, does that sound scary, Jake?”
“Not really,” Jake said confidently. “Except the woods. Woods are scary. They’re the number one place to die.”
“Really?” I said.
“Yep,” Jake said. “That’s where Freddy Krueger always gets you.”
Next Bunny told us about a neat/scary dream she had recently. It involved a cemetery surrounded by a moat. The cemetery was very Victorian and romantic, full of marble angels and lambs. And Kris and I were there, but we were young, dressed in our old ‘80s way, in vintage velvet dresses and fishnets. A bunch of our old punk friends were there too. And all the punk kids were diving into the moat and coming up with broken fragments of old monuments—angel heads and marble hands and crosses. Bunny had so many beautiful details that I can’t remember now. . . . I hate how bad my memory is. That’s why I have to write everything down.
It took kind of a long time to tell about the dream (about a minute), and Jake got a little bored.
“Stop talking, Bunny,” he said, but in the jolliest way. And we went about the business of finding cats to play with.
Bunny got to see Carl! He's so cute, but he usually hides when people come over. Yet this time he came out for a brief moment, and Bunny got to see his gigantic eyes and his short face and his perfect stripes and his yellow belly and his black-bottomed feet and his little bulldog-shaped body. He is adorable.
“What were you guys doing?” Sophie asked when we came back in the house.
“Looking for cats,” I said. “I wanted to show Bunny Elroy and Leroy, but we couldn't find them.”
“You have too many cats!” Sophie cried. “People think you’re a lonely old cat lady!”
“Touché,” I said. “Touché.”
Bunny started doing tarot readings in the library, by candlelight. Bunny is a teacher, but she really missed her calling, I think, as a psychic. She did the best readings for everybody! She was calm and soothing (yet spooky!) as she instructed us each, in our turn, to choose three cards. “Choose three cards,” she said, “that you feel drawn to. These represent your past, present, and future. . . .”
Sophie was too scared to have her reading done by candlelight. But she wouldn’t admit it. “The candles hurt my eyes,” she said, rubbing them melodramatically. So we had to switch on the overhead.
I got to overhear just a bit of Jake’s reading. It was so hilarious: “This card represents your past, a period you’ve left behind,” Bunny said. “Your card includes a strong female figure, so perhaps this card signifies a period of intense mothering that has now ended for you. . . .” How perfect for a seven-year-old! But I don’t think Jake even sat through his whole reading. He went in the living room (despite all the scary ceramic ghosts and monster heads on the mantle piece) and started watching some sort of kids’ show with my enormous cat Jammer in his lap.
We decided to play a game of Clue, which is one of the Kimel family’s very favorite games. We used to play it all the time back in the ‘80s, when I was about 17 or 18 and Bunny was seven or eight. Our brother, Jacob, would play too, and we’d all be laughing and laughing. It was so much fun, sitting at the big kitchen table. I wish I’d written down the jokes, because now, of course, I can’t remember them.
On my first roll of the die, I got a measly three and moved three spaces. It was a pretty clear-cut move, I thought. But Sophie said in her confident Sophie way, rolling her eyes, “Well, that was stupid.”
Jake chimed in too: “Yeah, that was stupid!”
Here's what Sophie said next: “I hate how Bunny acts.”
We all looked at her, laughing.
“You mean in general?” I asked.
“No, now.” Then she launched into a really dead-on Bunny impression, with her finger on her chin (Sophie’s a great mimic): “She’s like, ‘Hmmm. Interesting.’ She thinks she’s really a detective or something!”
“She does remind me a little of Miss Marple,” Rob said.
And Bunny started really hamming it up after that.
“Bunny’s going to win,” I said. “I know it. Because she’s actually using logical deduction and not just screwing around.”
“No, I am going to win,” Jake declared.
Jake plays like I do in Clue—making wild guesses based on nothing. Early on he was itching to make an "accusation," which is the final play of the game.
Kris was playing on Jake’s team. “Um, but if we’re wrong, we’re out,” she said. “I think we better keep gathering clues for a little while longer.”
“No,” Jake insisted. “I will guess it.”
Instead, he ended up taking a break and going and watching a little more TV.
Kris and Jake did end up making an accusation in the end. “It’s Miss Scarlet in the hall with the revolver,” Kris said.
Only they were wrong because I failed to mention that I had the hall in my stack of cards. “Oh, crap,” I said. “I forgot I had it. I totally forgot. That’s why I kept going into the hall myself and guessing repeatedly.”
“Good job, Leslie,” Sophie said, rolling her eyes.
“Leslie ruined the game!” Rob teased.
“Yeah!” Jake said. “You ruined the game, Leslie!” He loves to copy Rob.
I am indeed the worst game player ever. I never can concentrate because I'm too busy laughing.
It was time for the guests to go home. It was almost nine and pitch dark. Sophie went around to the various pumpkin-shaped bowls and started filling her pockets with candy for the road.
“But where’s my Hot Wheels car?” Jake cried. "I want it!"
Kris whispered to Rob what she had done.
“Hmmm,” Rob said. “Maybe we can use these tarot cards to locate the missing car.” He pulled out three cards. “We’ll see if we can make this work. . . . Okay, we’ve got the world on this card here. And tonight our world centered around the kitchen. So the car must be in . . . the kitchen!”
“Well, that certainly makes sense,” I said. “It’s amazing what you can do with tarot cards.”
Jake found his Hot Wheels car in the cabinet. He was dazzled, dumbfounded. But he was also terrified now to go out to the car in the dark and the rain. He wanted Kris to carry him.
“Why did Phineas take my car?” he kept asking. “Why did he put it in there?”
Apparently Sophie was really scared too, and during the ride home she started scheming to sleep in Kris’s bed that night.
Sophie made this great ghost. Go, Sophie!
Jake: Looking cocky but feeling scared
Spooky centerpiece on the fortunetelling table
Rob and Mom smiling in the midst of chaos (while Jake ponders the mysteries of the supernatural)
I love this baby skeleton!